parental imago

The term `parental imago' denotes the image of the mother or father continuing on after their death, but no longer the real mother or father:


When the parents have long been dead and have lost, or should have lost, all significance, the situation of the patient having perhaps completely changed since then, they are still somehow present and as important as if they were still alive

CW4 ¶ 305

The patient's love, admiration, resistance, hatred, and rebelliousness still cling to their effigies, transfigured by affection or distorted by envy, and often bearing little resemblance to the erstwhile reality

CW4 ¶ 305



It was this fact that compelled me to speak no longer of “father” and “mother” but to employ instead the term “imago,” because these fantasies are not concerned any more with the real father and mother but with subjective and often very much distorted images of them which lead a shadowy but nonetheless potent existence in the mind of the patient

CW4 ¶ 305

It is the parental imagos that seem to be projected most frequently, a fact so obvious that one could almost draw the conclusion that it is precisely the conscious contents which are projected

CW9.1 ¶ 122

This can be seen most plainly in cases of transference, where it is perfectly clear to the patient that the father-imago (or even the mother-imago) is projected on to the analyst

CW9.1 ¶ 122

He [the patient] even sees through the incest-fantasies bound up with them [parental imagos], without, however, being freed from the reactive effect of his projection, i.e., from the transference. In other words, he behaves exactly as if he had not seen through his projection at all

CW9.1 ¶ 122




Experience shows that projection is never conscious: projections are always there first and are recognized afterwards. We must therefore assume that, over and above the incest-fantasy, highly emotional contents are still bound up with the parental imagos and need to be made conscious

CW9.1 ¶ 122

They [parental imagos] are obviously more difficult to make conscious than the incest-fantasies, which are supposed to have been repressed through violent resistance and to be unconscious for that reason. Supposing this view is correct, we are driven to the conclusion that besides incest-fantasy there must be contents which are repressed through a still greater resistance

CW9.1 ¶ 122

Religious ideas, as history shows, are charged with an extremely suggestive, emotional power. Among them I naturally reckon all représentations collectives, everything that we learn from the history of religion, and anything that has an “-ism” attached to it. The latter is only a modern variant of the denominational religions

CW9.1 ¶ 125




The only thing we know positively from psychological experience is that theistic ideas are associated with the parental imagos, and that our patients are mostly unconscious of them. If the corresponding projections cannot be withdrawn through insight, then we have every reason to suspect the presence of emotional contents of a religious nature regardless of the rationalistic resistance of the patient

CW9.1 ¶ 127

The représentations collectives have a dominating power, so it is not surprising that they are repressed with the most intense resistance. When repressed, they do not hide behind any trifling thing but behind ideas and figures that have already become problematical for other reasons, and intensify and complicate their dubious nature

CW9.1 ¶ 130




For instance, everything that we would like, in an infantile fashion to attribute to our parents or blame them for is blown up to fantastic proportions from this secret source, and for this reason it remains an open question how much of the ill-reputed incest-fantasy is to be taken seriously

CW9.1 ¶ 130